Moses Mutuku, who cried as a child because he had no books to read, wanted to give opportunities to the children of his rural Kenyan homeland.
Opportunities to learn. To grow. To gain the aspirations and tools for careers other than farming.
The professor in NIU’s College of Education frequently returned home to foster educational equality by working to bridge the achievement gap between modern cities and tiny villages, often bringing NIU colleagues and students along.
Ultimately, the quiet and humble professor hoped to convince the Kenyan government to adapt a national educational rights plan based on his work.
Sadly, however, Mutuku’s fellow travelers – as well as those who benefitted from his work – now must carry the torch of his Kenya Literacy Project ambitions alone.
Mutuku died Sunday, Jan. 15.
“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news with you this morning that one of our beloved faculty members, Dr. Moses Mutuku, passed away,” Dean La Vonne I. Neal and Associate Dean Connie Fox said in a statement released today.
“Dr. Mutuku joined our team in January 2001 and will be remembered in many ways. He was an eternal optimist who always had a sincere smile and infused hope and happiness to those around him. He stayed connected to his homeland, working tirelessly to help children through the Kenya Literacy Project,” the statement continued.
“Several faculty members had the privilege of partnering with him as they focused on expanding early childhood practices in another part of the world. And most of all, Dr. Mutuku will be remembered as a passionate educator who devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to his students, treating them as if they were a natural extension of his own family.”
Visitation and Memorial Location
Saturday, Jan. 21
The Evangelical Free Church of Sycamore-DeKalb, 150 Bethany Road
The visitation will occur between 3:30 and 5 p.m. with the memorial service starting at 5:30 pm.
Immediately following the services, a repast and fundraiser will be held
at 7 p.m. at the NIU Center for Black Studies.
To contribute food or beverages, email [email protected] with details of what you plan to bring.
Fruits, desserts and beverages are suggested, although all food items are welcomed.
Mutuku earned his Ed.D. in elementary education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
He also held a master’s degree in special education (rehabilitative sciences) from Clarion University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Geneva College.
At NIU, he taught courses in early education through the Department of Special and Early Education.
The small Kenyan village, about 90 miles southeast of Nairobi in the district of Machakos, had gone 15 years without advancing one student from its Kwamwonga primary school to the nearest secondary school.
Mutuku’s Kenya Literacy Project presented “a unique opportunity to expand knowledge of developmentally and culturally appropriate early childhood practices in another part of the world,” according to his website, “and to make a service contribution to members of a Kenyan village who have warmly invited the involvement and expertise of early childhood scholars from the U.S.”
Parents there “despair. They see no hope because of all the things that go on. They accept that their situation is hopeless and helpless,” he said in 2005.
“For most of these children, if you wake up and see your mom or dad sitting around, and you don’t know if you’re going to eat that day, there’s nothing better than saying, ‘Hey, you don’t have to live this way.’ We are giving them hope. In 10 years, I want these children to be able to live above these circumstances.”
Children spent as many as five hours a day fetching water, walking 10 miles round-trip to the only source.
Mutuku and some friends contributed money toward the construction of water dams that would allow the harvesting of rain as it fell. The villagers helped to build two dams to channel the water to their village and constructed some water tanks the size of Mutuku’s Gabel Hall office for storage.
With the problem remedied, he turned his attention toward academics.
He and NIU colleagues trained teachers in the latest research on early childhood and elementary education and how to apply it in the classroom. They visited urban Kenyan schools to observe and compare, borrowing strategies to empower children to participate in their own learning.
Mutuku also worked with parents to improve their attitudes.
He launched the “chicken project,” helping the villagers to construct a coop with wire mesh he provided. To foster a sense of responsibility, he gave chicks to 20 families, entrusting them with the care of the animals. The families later upgraded to goats and cows.
The villagers also gathered to put a roof on a town library, the walls of which were built through the project’s guidance and funding. NIU College of Education professors are donating books to stock the shelves.
Support from his colleagues, whether through their volunteer labor or their dollars, surprised the humble Mutuku.
“I didn’t even think about telling people. This is something real that I was doing because it needed to be done,” he said. “I’m amazed at the way people have responded.”
What did not surprise him was the response of the people of Mwala.
“I’m very proud of how much they’ve taken the lead,” he said. “It is kind of a relief to me to see people taking this kind of ownership. You know they are starting to accept that it is on themselves to make a difference in their lives, and that we are just partners. We are equals in trying to find the best direction.”
Mutuku will be buried in his homeland of Kenya.
In addition to the Saturday evening fundraiser, two accounts have been set up to accept funds to help with transportation expenses for both himself and his family members.
An account has been established at the NIU Credit Union called the Moses Mutuku Memorial Fund. Donations can be dropped off at the credit union or mailed to NIU Employees Federal Credit Union, 817 W. Lincoln Hwy., DeKalb, Ill., 60115. The second account is at Bank of America.